Adventures in Bad Interface Design

crummy interface designPuzzle question for people: How would you turn on the shower in the attached photo? Be sure to click through for a larger version.

Hints: You don’t turn the handle, and there are no buttons or switches.

It flummoxed me this morning, to the point that I was on the verge of calling room service after five minutes (and that includes half-yanking the handle of the wall).


  1. Do you push up on the bottom of the nozzle? It looks like there is a little brass extension there. Agreed it is a &#%$$@ design.

  2. pull down on the faucet opening?

  3. I’ll ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind: you were naked when you took that photo, weren’t you?

  4. i vote with “a” – pull down on the faucet opening.

  5. a) Yes, you have to pull _down_ on that small and unmarked brass faucet tip to make water go _up_ to the shower head. Nuts.
    b) No, I was clothed while taking the picture :-)

  6. That’s too funny Paul – I stayed in a hotel with a colleague of mine and we switched rooms because he claimed he had no shower. He had an updated room to mine that had shower 2.0 technology similiar to your photo.
    I was convinced his room must have a shower so, since his room had a better view, I took the room and battled with the plumbing for 10 minutes before calling room service to have the mystery revealed to me.

  7. You do turn the handle to control the temperature and flow of water though, right? Doesn’t seem that hard to me, the bath/shower toggle is almost always on the faucet somewhere, and even if it’s on top it’s usually unmarked. I’ve never seen a shower with a sign that says “push this button to activate shower” so I’m not sure what exactly you were expecting. Then again, I’ve been in this dilemma with other shower designs, and understand how frustrating it is if you’re still half asleep.

  8. I’ve never seen a shower with a sign that says ‘push this button to activate shower’
    I stayed in a hotel in Morgan Hill a few weeks ago that had the same sort of faucet in the shower. And there was a hand-written, laminated card taped to the tile that said exactly this.
    Apparently the front desk had received way too many questions about the shower.

  9. You put on your best Picard voice, and say “Make it flow.”

  10. I am not sure I would call it bad interface design; just that it is not intuitive.
    So all it needs is a small instruction note of some kind although that probably destroys the aesthetics, so some interior designer’s ideas took precedence over the tap designer’s. Which is again not bad design but bad prioritisation.
    Come to think about it, how intuitive is it to click on ‘start’ to shut down our Wintel PCs? How did the first person – outside Microsoft – who learnt about it figure it out? With a manual?
    All that said, the worst are those ‘energy saving’ showers that turn on automatically when you are near it… and everyone knows that the first few seconds is cold water and it is generally not a good idea to get your clothes wet while trying to figure out how to work the shower, just as Paul was doing, fully clothed..

  11. Heck that’s the same problem I had with the iPod.
    It took me 20 minutes the first time I saw one to figure out how to play music.
    When I finally got one I had to download the manual to figure out how to basic tasks like rewind, or adjust the volume.
    And what’s wrong with a goddamn on/off switch?
    Simplicity != usability (not necessarily anyway)

  12. On usability – consider the usability of this website that aims to teach, well, usability:
    Enough said?

  13. Had the exact same problem with the iPod too. I still don’t really know how to use it. It’s like the VCR of my generation.

  14. Do you look around for a hidden video camera :).
    I haven’t seen a shower like that, but I’ve battled with a few on my travels. I gotta say, without coffee, I dunno if I would have figured that out.

  15. You weren’t in the UK, were you? I’ve traveled a bit in the UK, both when I lived there and later, and remember staring at an awful lot of hotel shower fixtures. I remember one — some ancient place — that required the use of both hands: One to pull something and the other to turn something, simultaneously. The thing you pulled was 60 inches up the wall; the thing you turned was 6 inches from the floor.

  16. Shefaly,
    “I am not sure I would call it bad interface design; just that it is not intuitive.”
    isn’t that an oxymoron?

  17. Nick, did you mean ‘isn’t that a tautology?’. As far as I know, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. So technically ‘not intuitive’ design is just ‘plain bad’ design. I recognised that just as soon I pressed post on the first comment.. :-/
    BillG: We have other wonders in the UK too. Such as separate hot and cold taps on the bathroom basins. Or heavy old doors, that need two hands to turn two separate levers two different ways (not just clockwise and anti-clockwise).
    But then again, Americans push their light switches to ‘on’ position upward, whereas the rest of the world does it the other way round. And I have never figured out those door-buzzers, where you push one switch upward to listen, and the same downward to talk to someone at your door, before buzzing him/ her in. We may be ancient in the UK, but we just lift a phone-like handset and talk normally, and can press a separate button to buzz somebody in.

  18. A famous dude once said “If a thousand people a day push on the pull door, it’s not that people are stupid, it’s that it is a poorly designed door.”

  19. More then once I stumbled into a shower late at night or early in the morning to be frustrated by the same thing. Now, those memories don’t seam so embarrassing as they where :)

  20. I find it interesting that the most commented post in recent memory is one concerning how to turn on a shower.

  21. How many VCs does it take to…

  22. Bathroom fittings trump climate change on Kedrosky’s blog, going by comments.. Are we on to something here?